Tom Izzo: If Kentucky’s players were white, ‘I think it would be different’

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Michigan State coach Tom Izzo answered bluntly when William C. Rhoden of the New York Times asked him if race played a factor the perception of highly talented, predominantly black college basketball teams. By extension, that would include national champion Kentucky.

“I want to answer that as honestly as I can,” Izzo said. “I think it would be different. I hate to say that. It’s sad for me to say, but it’s probably the truth.”

After winning a national title at Kentucky, John Calipari has five players, including national Player of the Year Anthony Davis, on track to enter the NBA draft, shed their amateur status, and begin to make money off of their talents as a professional.

For all the criticism that Calipari has faced in his tenure as a college coach, it is undeniable, especially at Kentucky, that he has helped players launch lucrative basketball careers, a path which gives them an opportunity to better themselves and create financial stability for themselves and their families.

One of the attributes that makes Calipari so successful at the college level, aside from the sincere caring he has for his players and their futures (which any coach worth his salt should have, anyway) is the recognition of one fact:

Not every career is made in a classroom.

For high-major players, many of whom come from humble beginnings in working class households, college is an apprenticeship program, a stop along the way to a professional career (and a highly beneficial one, at that).

Why can’t the college experience be viewed that way?

Cramming a star athlete into a science laboratory and forcing him to play with pipettes and flasks for four years can do just as much good as forcing a future technological entrepreneur, someone with the potential of Steve Jobs or Bills Gates, to study geology without end.

There is no negative connotation here, no implication that athletes somehow possess less intelligence than any other college student, as the NCAA’s ‘dumb jocks’ campaign so counterproductively planted into the minds of fans.

The argument is about harnessing the type of intelligence that a certain student has and helping that person utilize it to make a living. While others may succeed with a calculator or paintbrush, Anthony Davis is one of the most kinesthetically intelligent students in the country.

And believe me, he is on track to make a lot more money off of that intelligence than most. With good financial planning, he could be set for life.

If there were colleges and universities that prided themselves on churning out star artists and business professionals after one or two years, leading them into high-paying jobs and giving them opportunities to succeed, would we have the same outrage as we see with these Kentucky underclassmen possibly entering the NBA draft?

For the players at the very top like these players in Calipari’s program, they have an economic opportunity that has not been afforded to many others in the general population.

It makes for great debate to take the intellectual “high road” and say that players should stay four years, graduate with a degree, and have a fall-back plan.

But the reality of the situation is this, and any business professional (regarded so highly it seems, in comparison to athletes) will tell you: When the difference between staying in school and going pro is a decision between zero-income amateur status and multi-million dollar professional and sponsorship contracts, there comes a point where it is imprudent not to go pro.

For players at this level, money management skills, courses in public image and marketability, and—get this—more time honing one’s skills in the gym, could make for a more well-rounded and potentially successful professional athlete than one who focuses only on “traditional” college courses.

As Rhoden of the Times writes so eloquently in metaphor about the jump to the NBA for players from low-income backgrounds:

“But when you are being pursued by the poverty hounds and see a fence, you jump it and take your chances with whatever is on the other side.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

[Post updated 9 April 2012, 3:03p.m.]

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.